FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
It didn’t take Master Sgt. Eric Icenhower long to come up with a plan to help solve the language barrier he knew he’d face while on an upcoming trip to Ukraine in the fall of 2018. He had been asked to assist the 129th Rescue Wing in California to organize a training plan for their state partnership program to train Ukrainian survival instructors during multi-national exercise Clear Sky with an end goal of establishing a formal survival training program.
Although the Air Force was providing interpreters for the exercise, Icenhower knew it would be beneficial for him to have someone who not only spoke the language, but someone with firsthand knowledge of survival training.
“One of the things I remembered from going to Ukraine in the past,” said Icenhower, the Air Reserve component Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist training superintendent from the 141st Air Refueling Wing. “Was that even a five-minute conversation could take nearly a day because you have to explain to the interpreter the points you’re trying to make and hope that they translate it effectively and then wait for the response to come back to see if it was communicated properly or not.”
Insert Staff Sgt. Mikhail Scheglov, a travel pay finance technician with the 141st Comptroller Flight. With travel being a large part of Icenhower’s job, he and Scheglov had gotten to know each other through countless travel vouchers over the past couple of years.
Scheglov, who was born and raised in Russia, travelled to the United States as a foreign exchange student in 2002 upon graduating from high school. He stayed in the U.S. on a work visa and then ultimately obtained his green card and joined the Air Force in 2010.
“I knew he was Eastern European but didn’t know where he was from or what his background was,” said Icenhower. “I went over to finance and asked him if he could speak Russian and Ukrainian and if he’d be willing to go through SERE training in order to go on this trip and he just lit up.”
With the approval from his chain of command, Scheglov was able to go through SV-80A combat survival training as well as SV-84A underwater egress training and SV-90A parachute water survival training courses to help give him some background knowledge of the training Icenhower was going to be assisting with and to better relay accurate information in his translations.
“It was challenging, but I began to understand why certain people go through SERE training,” said Scheglov. “There were a lot of interesting concepts to learn and getting to meet a whole spectrum of different people and have to work together as a team was very unique. I enjoyed it from day one.”
Once in country he and Icenhower traveled to Vinnytsia Air Base, about three hours southwest of Kiev, and went straight to work.
“It worked out so well,” Icenhower said. “He’d jump into a conversation and look to me and start relaying information about their training and he’d say, ‘Do you remember this phase in our training? They do it very similar but this is what they do.’ And we’d be able to move on from there.”
Scheglov was able to work side by side with pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, and SERE specialists in the classroom and the field to break down training processes for personnel recovery and had the skills and specific knowledge to explain with accuracy because of his previous training.
“One thing that I think deserves credit is that as an interpreter, it’s not an easy job,” said Icenhower. “His brain was turning all day long, so to put things into technical terms and use abbreviations and to have to explain some of those things can be exhausting.”
There may possibly be consideration for future state partnership programs involving SERE and pararescue to have their interpreters go through SERE training because it was so beneficial, said Icenhower.
“I learned a lot of things; I was the communication bridge between us and the Ukrainian survival instructors,” said Scheglov. “I thought it was super cool just to do something outside of my career field and that’s why I enjoyed this trip so much.”